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5 Ways New Buyer Behaviors Are Impacting B2B Sales

image from www.flickr.comFor many in B2B sales, from senior leaders to sales representatives, it may be a discouraging time.  If you follow conventional and social media closely, the storied demise of sales has been told many times.  You probably could buy a few lunches if you collected a dollar for every time you heard that buyers are in control and don’t need sales.   To you, this sentiment seems like it is taking on mythical proportions.  I am not so sure.  If I ask myself three simple questions, I think my answers are clear:

Have buyers changed?  Answer: Yes
Does B2B Sales need to change?  Answer: Yes
Will buyers still require the assistance of B2B Sales?  Answer: Yes

I suspect many of you will answer the same way.  B2B Sales will continue to matter very much and it will go through periods of redefinitions and transformations over the next few years.   Although, in the Social Age, it may seem that people want to be devoid of actual interactions with others in such buying settings, I for one believe buyers are actually seeking more.  However, more of what has not defined interactions and relationships in the past.

5 Ways B2B Sales Are Affected

New buyer behaviors are emerging and evolving.  The rate of change will, without a doubt, continue to take place at a significant rate.  B2B Sales will have to charter a new course that gets them rethinking about how interactions, engagements, and relationships are changing.  Let’s take a look at new buyer behaviors and how they are affecting B2B Sales in particular:

Buyers Have New Knowledge Expectations

The instantaneous availability of information and knowledge at buyer’s fingertips puts pressure on B2B Sales to match their expectations when it comes to what we can call knowledge readiness.  If buyers are truly able to access information and knowledge for researching as well as assessing potential opportunities and resolutions, then B2B Sales needs to bring more to the table when an actual engagement takes place.  B2B Sales needs to pick up where the buyer left off.  Let an actual buyer voice be heard:

“Okay, so what gets my goat more than anything is that after I do all the research and such, I finally get to talking to a sales rep.  And what happens?  They just regurgitate all the stuff I found online.  They are not telling me anything new.  Just telling me what I already know.”

For B2B organizations today, not only is sales readiness important but so is knowledge readiness.

Buyers Seeking Advisement, Not Ready-Made Solutions

A generalized assumptive statement can be made, based on numerous surveys conducted over the past two years, that buyers are generally 50% to 60% into the buying process before having direct engagement with sales.  They’ve done the spade work in looking at potential solutions, scoping out what might be a good resolution, and approximating budgets.  This changes the game significantly for B2B Sales.  Buyers already know about your ready-made solutions found in their researching.  What they seek is skills and knowledge in advising them on how solutions – modified, customized, and most definitely altered – will help them to achieve the specific goals and outcomes they seek.  The implication for B2B organizations is B2B Selling organizations must have talent that reflects excellent advisory skills.

Buyers Including More People in Their Ecosystems and Networks

Driven by social and Enterprise 2.0 technologies, buyers are able to expand their ecosystems and networks in complex situations.  The degree of interdependencies between not only users and influencers but partners, suppliers, and their customers as well makes for more complexity.  And once again – more knowledge needed.   Decision-making is getting more participative within ecosystems and networks.  B2B Sales will need to adapt and address complexity as well as possess knowledge that makes them an important participant within a buyer’s complex ecosystem and networks.  I believe this will be B2B Sales toughest challenge over the next few years.  Why?  I believe wired into the DNA of selling organizations are systems, training, processes, and the likes all oriented towards the tunnel vision of a single buyer making a non-sophisticated decision.  Today’s realities tell us otherwise.

Buying Cycles Are Getting Longer

Counterintuitive to today’s hyper-connected and hyper-speed world is the acknowledgement that buying cycles in complex B2B Sales situations are actually getting longer.  Increasing need for more knowledge, more advisement on problem-solving, more modifications and customizations, more participants in buyer networks, and more complex global environments all point towards why buying cycles are getting longer.  This means B2B Sales will need to exercise patience in serving in the advisory role and slow down the train on ready-made solutions selling.  What we will see here is boiling tension points begin to emerge.  Many organizations are still wedded to pipeline thinking and management.  Mandated for decades has been to push sales opportunities fast and furiously through the pipeline to meet quarterly projections.  Readjusting thinking around this tension point is very much akin to turning a freight ship around in a harbor – it’s going to take a while and some tug boats are definitely going to be needed.

Buyers Are Relating Differently

Emerging generational differences are beginning to sprout into the workforces.  A generation is rising that has little knowledge of a world without an Internet, email, social networks, ubiquitous smart phones, and always on connectivity to their social and professional networks.  How interactions takes place and how relationships are formed are undergoing major transformations.  The implications for B2B Sales is that it will need to look at their buyer groups and determine how advanced they are along these lines and are they impacted significantly with generational differences.  Causing a reexamination of what the coveted ratio between field and inside sales should be in the future.  Which is better suited to interact with and relate to the social buyer will be the new determining factor on this ratio – as opposed to some arbitrary cut off line between large accounts and small accounts.

Where Is B2B Sales Headed?

These emerging new buyer behaviors will contribute towards the changing face of B2B Sales.  They will impact traditional vanguards such as sales planning, sales strategies, pipeline management, sales training, and sales hiring.  Solving the decades old marketing and sales alignment issue will need to be reexamined as well.  Much of the debate has been around functional definitions as opposed to how an organization best coalesces around changing buyer behaviors and dynamics.

There are three things we can be sure of in the future.  One, new buyer behaviors will continue to impact B2B Sales.  Two, how we define B2B Sales will undergo drastic change.  And lastly, B2B Sales will continue to play a vital role in how organizations engage with buyers in the future.

How is your organization being impacted today?  What changes are taking place that you see?

(Image by Kenny Madden © All rights reserved)


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7 Burning Questions for B2B Marketers in 2012

image from www.flickr.comAsking good questions was seared into my mental consciousness by several mentors early in my career.  This notion was further influenced by prodigious reading of Peter Drucker.  The premise being that good questions help you to focus and to get to the heart of what matters most.  Here’s what I’ve learned over the years: it is hard to do and it takes practice!  As I think about the future for B2B Marketers, these questions ring the loudest:

Who Are Our Customers?

We are undergoing the most significant changes in buyer behaviors in several decades as well as seeing the rise of connected social buyers, albeit younger, who behave much differently than traditional buyers.  As simple as the question sounds, it is still the hardest question for businesses to answer.  With existing buyers, new buyers, and expanding markets constantly in transition – getting insight into answering this question will need to be on top of the list.

Where Did Our Customers Go?

If we randomly picked a ten page year-end report, it would be a good bet that somewhere on page eight or nine in the third paragraph there is mention of it.  You know what I am talking about.  The one about, in management speak of course, losing existing customers or prospective buyers dropping out of the pipeline.  If you don’t have solid answers on where they’ve gone – and why – then it is a safe bet you might see increases in next year’s ten page report.

How Do We Create A Better Buying Experience?

With distinctive differences between products and services narrowing substantially, experience-centered marketing and relationships will be the coveted playing field to win on.   When was the last time your organization reviewed processes, systems, departments, and the likes to determine whether they added value to the buying experience?  Were processes or systems put in place, now in hindsight, to address an anomaly that occurs in less than 3% of all situations?  Meaning, the remaining 97% of existing customers and prospective buyers have to go through hurdles that in the end may cause them to say: forget it!

What Is The Best Way To Interact Directly With Customers?

If we totaled all of the articles written in 2011 in the B2B world, it would make you think that there is nothing happening after this so called 70% window where buyers don’t want sales interaction.  Well, ignore at your own peril.  What has happened is that it has raised the stakes on the remaining 30-40% where direct interaction from sales is still needed.  In service what is the best means for direct interaction?  In sales, what resources should be dedicated to field sales versus inside sales?   What in the world is social selling and what do we do about it?

How Do We Best Equip Our Employees For The New Way Of Business?

If you haven’t noticed, buyers are a changing.  Meaning your organization cannot stand pat without changing also.  Buyers are expecting their suppliers and vendors to change with them.  If there is a growing perceived gap between how much they’ve changed and how much you haven’t – could mean they will go elsewhere.  It is time to look at the talent needed and the equipping technologies needed to have employees ready to do business in a new way.

How Do we Best Assimilate Social Media Into Our Business – The Right Way?

Enriching experiences with social media is here to stay.  The cabling has been laid out and becoming hardwired into the mainstream conscious of every business.  If you resisted, it is time to take a fresh look and ease up on the tight grip you’ve had on social media expenditures.  Granted, the hype was spectacular and some companies bet their whole marketing budget on social media.  Those who did will probably rethink that idea and be much the wiser going forward.

What Exactly Is Doing Content Marketing The Right Way?

Many B2B companies are grappling with the ideas behind content marketing and content strategy.  It all sounds good – give existing customers and prospective buyers’ great content and that should result in gains in customer loyalty and buyer conversions.  How to make that happen is where the grappling is taking place.  When does too much content do more harm than good?  When does too little content hurt conversions?  What exactly is good content versus bad content?

As you see, the questions could never end.  The important take away is to be sure to ask them.  Ignoring them and sweeping them under the rug will only make the rug a little bumpy.  And one day, buyers will simply pull the rug out from underneath you.

(Image by Kenny Madden © All rights reserved)

 

 

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5 Ways New Buyer Behaviors Will Affect B2B Marketers in 2012

image from www.flickr.comChanges in buyer behaviors continue to march on as new social technologies take root into the mainstream of B2B businesses.  Uncertainty on how best to understand buyers today as well as engage buyers is on top of the list for many B2B organizations as they look ahead to 2012 and beyond.  During the past two years, we’ve seen new tactical attempts come and go while some are sticking.  With clear determination of changes in buyer behavior remaining elusive, B2B organizations are struggling to find the right mix of buyer strategies and tactics that result in a winning formula.  Looking ahead, more and more B2B organizations will seek to find a formula that works specifically for them.   (Image “Breathe the sames air as your prospects/customers” by Kenny Madden © All rights reserved)

5 Ways B2B Marketers Are Affected

New buyer behaviors means B2B organizations have to rethink many of their existing ways of engaging B2b buyers today.  This is certainly problematic when rethinking often entails looking at such building blocks as strategy, tactics, systems, and infrastructure.  Let’s take a look at new buyer behaviors and how they are affecting B2B Marketers (note – when using the term B2B Marketers, I am referencing both marketing and sales):

Buyers Expanding Their Decision-Making Networks

The advent of social technologies is allowing B2B buyers today to expand not only their social network but their collaborating network.  While we have been conditioned over decades to focus on a single target buyer, or as I have written about often, a target buyer persona, we are beginning to see that this will no longer be adequate for B2B Marketers.  The expansion of these buyer ecosystems and networks is changing who is included in new buyer decision models.  Buyers are less and less representing themselves or behaving as individual buyers but more and more as a buyer network.  B2B Marketers will need to get grounded in figuring out what buyer ecosystems and buyer networks exist for their respective industries.

Buyers Are Seeking Intelligence, Not Content

I’ve covered this recently in several articles.  In qualitative efforts I’ve been involved with recently that included conducting buyer interviews, I can tell you that the overwhelming amount of content that buyers are dealing with is an issue.  Buyers are essentially being forced to be more selective and to “junk” perceived non-relevant content.  I use the word perceive here because it is very much like Malcom Gladwell’s theory of Blink.  They are making the perception of non-relevance in a blink of an eye.  B2B Marketers then must focus on standing out and offering intelligence that buyers seek and not mere push messaging content.

Buyers Want Humanized Buyer Experiences

Let’s face it, many B2B buying experiences still feel, look, and are acted out in very transactional ways.  Buyers today are basically saying: why should I settle for less!  I still stand solidly behind Paul Greenburg’s mantra that “buyers want to be a subject of an experience, and not an object of a sale.”  B2B Marketers will need to focus on how to make humanized buyer experiences happen.  The margin of difference between products and services is narrow so the playing field of experience is gaining in prominence.

Risks Continues to Play Big Role in Buyer Decisions

Risk aversion and risk avoidance continue to affect B2B buying decisions.  The uncertainty created by a tumultuous global economy and uncertainty about the future means B2B buyers give extra attention to driving down costs and putting more pressure on reducing price whenever they can.  The affects of buyer perceived risks is enormous.  It is resulting in more problem solving research, longer sales cycles, and the expansion of buyer networks in decision-making as mentioned above.  B2B Marketers then must not only determine what these perceived risks are, but address them early on in buying cycles and buyer decision models.

Buyers Adopting New Self-Enabling Technologies

If we think back ten to fifteen years ago, it was very common to think that mid-level managers to senior executives probably would privately break down and cry if the administrative assistant called in sick.  Fast forward today, new technologies have caused a major mind shift.  B2B buyers from mid-level managers to senior executives are efficient at using newer technologies to be self-enabling.  Meaning they want more self-enabling technologies and services from B2B Marketers.  With 60% to 70% of purchase decisions being made before there is direct sales involvement, this is the new frontier in B2B Marketing and Sales.  B2B Marketers then will need a mind shift themselves.  In the past three years, we’ve seen a considerable increase in marketing technology investing with some producing measurable success while some are questionable at best.  The shift needs to be towards investing in buyer enabling technologies.  Meaning B2B Marketers will have to think more about how they can create self-enabling buying experiences that buyers customize on their own.  Experiences that don’t necessarily follow what we think are normal buying processes or stages.

Investing In The Two Sides of Buyer Insight 2.0

Enriching insights on existing customers and prospective buyers is rising to the top of the agenda for C-Suites in B2B organizations.  The above mentioned buyer behaviors and their impact on B2B Marketers mean that making assumptions about existing customers and potential buyers is risky business.  While investments in BIG data surged in the past two years, investing in BIG insights will gain more attention as B2B Marketers continue to struggle making sense out of data and analytics.  In 2012, B2B Marketers will begin to incorporate the two sides of buyer research and analysis into Buyer Insight 2.0 – data and context.  There is a symbiotic relationship between the two and B2B Marketers will discover in 2012 that to understand buyer decision-making behaviors – data or analytics cannot exist without context and that context cannot exist without data or analytics.

Without question, there is a lot to think about in 2012.  One thing B2B Marketers can think about consistently is that new buyer behaviors will affect them and it will not be the other way around.  Those days are long gone indeed.

 

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